Saturday, December 24, 2005

Unwed Fathers

Fucked up kids havin' fucked up kids havin' fucked up kids ...
--
Happy Campers, "No Direction"

In an Appalachian Greyhound station
She sits there waiting in a family way
"Goodbye brother, tell Mom I love her
Tell all the others I'll write someday"

From a teenage lover to an unwed mother
Kept undercover like some bad dream
While unwed fathers, they can't be bothered
They run like water through a mountain stream

Just like his mom, my sister, my nephew Nathan dropped out of school midway through high school. He spent a couple years in and out of juvenile detention centers for assorted brushes with the law, and now, at the ripe old age of 19, finds himself the father of a sweet two-year-old little girl named Madison. He lives with my sister in Columbus. Madison's mother, also 19, lives with her mother in a dilapidated trailer outside of Ironton, Ohio, three hours south of Columbus.

Mom and dad met in the most romantic of circumstances; while huffing glue in the stock room of the fast-food restaurant where they both worked. There was no courtship, no flowers, no wooing. There was just quick sex amidst the oversized jars of condiments. There was no thought of marriage. He didn't really love her. For that matter, he didn't even really like her. And she felt the same about him. Both secretly believed that the other was a loser. But then along came Madison nine months later, as babies tend to do, and the arduous ordeal of shared custody began. This year it was Nathan's turn to "get" Madison for Christmas.

Thursday night Madison and my sister showed up at our house for the Christmas celebration. Madison's dad was back home nursing a hangover. Or maybe he was doing Ecstasy. My sister wasn't sure.

In a cold and gray town a nurse says "Lay down"
This ain't no playground, and this ain't no home"
Someone's children out having children
In a gray stone building, all alone

From a teenage lover to an unwed mother
Kept undercover like some bad dream
While unwed fathers, they can't be bothered
They run like water through a mountain stream

Madison was shy at first. She didn't know where she was. But she warmed up quickly. She explored our house, and she led my daughter Rachel around by the hand, pointing at the Christmas decorations, laughing, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. There was something magical happening, and I simply sat back and watched; Rachel with Maddy, both delighting in the other's company.

When it was time to leave Madison cried. She didn't want to go. She grabbed Rachel's hand and pulled her toward the door, as if to lead her out to the car.

On a somewhere else bound Smokey Mountain Greyhound
She bows her head down, hummin' lullabies
'Your daddy never meant to hurt you ever'
He just don't live here, but you've got his eyes'

From a teenage lover to an unwed mother
Kept undercover like some bad dream
While unwed fathers, they can't be bothered
They run like water through a mountain stream
-- John Prine, "Unwed Fathers"

Madison's mom is pregnant again. My nephew is not the father, but it doesn't matter. She won't marry this guy either. But she's eligible for more food stamps this way, and you do what you have to do to get ahead. And in a couple more days Madison will head back to the dilapidated house trailer in Appalachia, where there is no employment, and no books, and no money, and no food, and perhaps no running water. But there is electricity, because there is TV. What will happen to this little girl? How can she possibly escape the same fate? I don't know. But sometimes it's difficult to hold on to hope. I've never met Maddy's mother. I don't know what she looks like. But I know my nephew, and I can picture him, even though he's never around anymore. He has a sweet, innocent little daughter, and she's got his eyes.

12 comments:

Lara said...

This brought tears to my eyes. Such a bittersweet story.

Andy W. Anderson, Ph.D Candidate said...

I was talking to my father today, as he was getting toys for children who will have no Christmas presents except those provided by the church, but who still have an X-Box, 600 some cable channels, and faster internet than my parents. His response to my stating the obvious, that the saddest part of seeing poverty isn't the poverty itself but the obvious f@#*ed up priorities of those in poverty, was this: "I know what the problem is, but I don't have the solution and I can't give a solution to the parents. I can, however, let these children, who didn't ask to be born into this, experience a Christmas that will bring them some joy and normalcy. And I will pray. I can only pray."

Amanda and I will also be praying.

Merry Christmas.

John McCollum said...

I don't even really know what the problem is. I mean, not precisely. Sigh.

danthress said...

The problem is generational sin.

Andy, the hope is lived out in your own life. Your life, and your family, are proof that the chains can be broken.

I know the fight isn't over for you, just as it isn't over for me. Here's to sharpening each other's swords in 2006.

The poverty behaviors are of course ironic. If I had a dollar for each time I thought about irony this year, I could buy a new car.

Fred Kohn said...

I agree with Johnny Mac.

of course I'd like to say where the problem lies, but I always find that the problem always seems to lie with "the other." For me personally that means the problem is with the audience, not the artist- with management- not labor, with fundies, not progressives, and of course with those who are not middle class- either because they are very rich or very poor.

Some prophet said that the sins of some are obvious, preceding them to the place of judgement. (These are "the other.") Others sins are less obvious, and follow them to the place of judgement. Now that I am past the half way point of my life, I find myself looking over my shoulder and seeing my sins following me. I find that despite my proud declarations I am just as much a servant of Mammon as these people I find it so easy to criticize. Jesus told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" but I've never in my life had to pray such a prayer! I've always had a cache of several days worth of bread stored up at least. And I would never be so humiliated as to need to take bread for free from anybody- even God. I'll earn my bread myself- thank you very much!

Sorry Andy, for taking your beautiful blog and making it about me. (but that is what i do best!)

Andy Whitman said...

Dan wins the Daily Double and moves on the championship round. The correct question to "The Problem" for $1,000 is "What is generational sin?"

Remember, the next round the questions get tougher. Next round's categories: Sins of the Fathers, Adultery, Alcoholism, Anger with Weapons, and Mental Illness.

danthress said...

Thanks Andy!

I'll take Sins of the Fathers, Adultery, or Alcoholism for $50.

Andy Whitman said...

Fred, I don't think it's an either/or situation. You can be profoundly aware of your own sins and still see the sins of others. And sometimes I think it's appropriate to recognize that the sins of others have played a part in making you the person you are.

In this case, I am responsible for my life and for the choices I've made, and others are responsible for my life and the choices I've made. Both are true.

Fred Kohn said...

sorry for shitting all over your blog, andy. It's not me- it's my damn cold.

(hows that for blame shifting?)

Certainly I agree that the problem is generational sin- but both rich and poor have this problem. One thing I've noticed as I have contemplated politics is that conservatives tend to feel that being poor is a sure sign that you are morally bad. Being rich is a sure sign that you are morally good. Thus conservative policies tend to be less government for the rich and more government for the poor. Liberals of course choose the opposite route- seeing being rich as a sure sign that you have done something wrong. Thus they favor more government for the poor and less for the rich.

You've made a good list of generational sins of the poor- but the rich also have a pretty good list: topped by pride and avarice.

Jesus had a radical notion- He said that both rich and poor are evil. Thus though it is popular to say that Jesus had a special heart for the poor, I think it was more accurate to say that He had a special heart for pointing out the sins of the rich. Not because the sins of the rich were greater, but because it's a lot easier to cover your sins if you have the money to do it.

Andy Whitman said...

Fred, I agree with what you're saying. But my original post wasn't really intended as political commentary. Or theological commentary, for that matter. It was simply the story of sweet little girl, and the circumstances that led her to my home one night shortly before Christmas.

Fred Kohn said...

yeah, sorry about that andy. I pulled a Jeff Cannell- left several steps out of my thought process before typing frantically. I really wasn't responding to your blog at all but some of the commentary on it plus some of the stuff from the previous blog which in my mind was kinda tied together...

probably not worth explaining at this point.

Jeff Cannell said...

hmmmmm